Business guide to implementing VoIP

Business guide to implementing VoIP

Summary: How can you tell if your business is ready for Voice over IP? Also, who are the leading IP handset providers and systems integrators in Australia?


Techno talk
First, some technical explanations to lay out an overview of what you're looking at.

The traditional model for voice communications is the PSTN, or Public Switched Telephone Network. This is, essentially, the phone company -- its infrastructure, cables and so on. It handles your phone calls, and has its own range of technologies for ensuring that your call gets through properly.

Although this is a slight over-simplification, the basic model of the PSTN is a mainframe/terminal scenario. The switches and exchanges of the phone company provide all the features and functionality of your call service. Your telephone is just a dumb terminal, with barely any inbuilt features of its own. Even phones with funky buttons for call waiting, call forwarding and placing calls on hold are completely reliant on those features being supported at the switch. The switch provides everything to the phone (including its power), and every signal which comes from the phone, from the keys pressed to your voice, has to be managed and interpreted by the switch.

Every phone connection, therefore, has to connect directly to the switch. In low-density situations like a residential connection, the individual connections back to the switch are called lines. In situations where a greater number of phone connections are needed, like offices, it's expensive and impractical to connect multiple lines to the exchange so a PBX, or Private Branch Exchange, is used instead. This is a smaller switch mounted and installed in-house, with a line going back to the main exchange called a trunk. PBXs have the advantage that all internal calls do not have to route out of the PBX and back to the exchange, so the phone company is not involved and the calls are free.

However, the basic model still applied -- the PBX carries all the functionality and the phones are just dumb terminals.

The simplicity of the switch/terminal system has enabled voice communications to be reliably serviced over fairly dated infrastructure. A phone line connected to a house in the 1970s is still perfectly viable. However, it also means that any new features or upgrades have to be applied to the switch, and this often means new, dedicated and expensive hardware. This doesn't really impact home users (until the bill goes up with a new -Service Fee" attached), but when businesses wish to upgrade PBX functionality, dollars can quickly vanish.

VoIP vs IP Telephony
These two phrases do get bandied about a lot -- to the extent that sometimes they're interchangeable and sometimes meaningless. The definition that makes the most sense is this:

  • Voice over IP describes the technology required to run voice communications over an IP network
  • IP Telephony describes the features and capabilities open to you now that you are running VoIP

To be honest, the only thing which matters is that the definitions makes sense in the context in which it's being used, and that it's used consistently. This article will only be talking about VoIP, using the definition outlined above.

Topics: Telcos, Cisco, Hardware, Networking, Outsourcing, Unified Comms, AAPT, Optus, Telstra

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  • VoiP

    We just installed an Avaya IP Office SOE system. We have two digital extensions in our office, and two IP extensions. (one at home and the other in the office)

    The home IP extension talks to the Avaya unit at the office via a VPN provided by two Cisco PIX 501's on regular residential ADSL connections. (ADSL2 at one at the other)

    Even when downloading files at each end the phone conversation is unaffected.

    I can now work from home in a way thats completly transparent to our clients.

    We did hit a stumbling block along the way however, We purchased two NetGear FVS338 Firewall/vpn units however they do not support H.323 properly (even thou the cheaper 318 model has had firmware updates to correct bugs in this area the FVS338 has not)
    The NetGear vpns also have other known issues that were not in the marketing material, such as issues with simple things like creating a Remote Desktop session! They advised us it would be fixed in an upcomming firmware update -- What a joke!

    So after wasting our money on NetGear we purchased the Cisco PIX 501's and although they were more complicated to setup they provide a faultless VPN environment for our VoIP setup (so far).

    We also spend the extra on Voice Mail Pro - which provides us with rich customer interaction when the call is answered. For example we have two options (1 for sales, 2 for support) - the call is automatically routed to the next suitible and available exension number.

    Overall the initial cost was high, we have lifted the professionalism of our business as well as provided a foundation for future expansion. (adding handsets or IP extensions is easily achieved using simple management software and can be done fully in house)

    I would reccommend the Avaya system to any small business with either multiple small offices or office and home based situations.
    Thanks also goes out to Planet Communications (Castle Hill) for their help in setting this up and trouble shooting out VPN!
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  • From the trenches...

    I work on a level 2 help desk in one of the nets more pervasive VoIP companies and these are the most common problems:

    How do I configure it?
    With a GUI everyone expects to be able to run the system themselves. They often can't. With a traditional PBX everyone knew they didn't know what to do and just paid an expert. See Asterisk for an example of how to scare off newbies.

    The quality isn't what I'm used to.
    As mentioned previously the standard from PSTN is high. Inphonex is the worst offender recently but all the major VoIP providers take turns at making my life hell by making subtle changes to their systems which disrupt lots of client programs.

    Find a real expert.
    Most of my day is wasted answering emails from experts who take your money to implement systems they know nothing about. Quiz your expert before they've had a chance to do any research.

    Set out EXACTLY how you want your calls to be handled before you go shopping. Figuring out your needs afterwards is just as costly with VoIP as it is for any other system or technology.
    That's my two cents. Best of luck.
  • I need a help too ..

    I would like to see how you configurate your PIX 501 for the VPN and VoIp .. I'm triying to do it with no success ..

    Please Help !
  • VoIP Myths and success's

    Great story and some great points.
    We have found that the setup is everything. Many ISP's and VoIP companies just dont give all the information to make the VoIP experience a success.
    We have been implimenting AVAYA platforms across the country and now around the world. There is a recipe for success and after going through the pitfalls of dealing with various ISP's VoIP works and woks well. By dealing with a Manufacturer that has been dpoing it for many years and a integrator that also is not testing the technology with you will enable a successful implimentation. There are great examples of great VoIP rollouts from AVAYA and Sholl Communications QLD is a market leader in making them work.
    VoiP suppliers such as Engin, Soul, One network, and others have been tested and SIP trunking from Carriers is the next frontier of delivering quality trunks to the business. PSTN and ISDN definately have a SIP relative that WILL impact on their connections by being quick easy and Very cost effective to implement and also number portability will make business case for VoIP completely praticle and real to the users.
  • Did you consider a Hosted option?

    I'm still surprised whenever anyone says were gonna host our own VoIP PBX. It just seems like a lot of headaches to me hey....

    You should try a hosted service like VONEX -

    Whenever we get a new employee I just order a new handset off their website, plug it in and go... Easy peazy!

    The Avayas are good quality system though. How are you finding the quality 3 years on?